George W. Bush event review, Edmonton Alberta's Shaw Conference Centre, Tuesday October 20, 2009

First off Mr. President, welcome back to Alberta. (wait for applause)

My question is about a disturbing political trend that we started but has now taken root south of the border: regionalism as a weapon against political candidates. Throughout the 90s the Reform Party was dismissed as "hicks from Alberta". You have been dismissed as a "hick from Texas", your predecessor was a "hick from Arkansas", and Sarah Palin is "a hick from Alaska". We also see this when your successor's Chicago roots being evidence that he must be corrupt. Do you see an escalation or a reduction in this sort of area of attack, and if its only going to get worse how can people from non-traditional regions escape sterotyping and bigotry?

The above was going to be my question for George W. Bush. If questions had to be kept under a certain length, I had a backup question:
Sir, recently President Obama invited a Cambridge police office and a Cambridge professor to the White House to publicly end a tense situation. Since we know you don't drink beer anymore, if you had hosted these men what would you have served them instead?

As anybody who had attended the show is aware, there was no question and answer session, only a conversation with Kelly Hrudey. While I understand that giving a bunch of these "WAHT ABUOT YUOR LEIS MISTRE PRSEDINT" morons a microphone wouldn't have been beneficial, it would have been nice to actually talk with him. As most people walking out of the Shaw were saying, having a discussion with President Bush about matters of politics would be an excellent evening indeed. He has a lot of rare insight that the previous and successive Presidents would be sorely lacking.

The evening opened up with a little metal detectoring, which leads me to a discussion about silliness: the 5pm show was delayed because they couldn't get everybody into the venue before 5pm. Only two of the three banks of metal detectors had been in use, and if right at 4pm they had properly been shuffling people in ASAP then the lineup issues wouldn't have been as pronounced. I was told "no cameras" by Shaw staff earlier in the day, yet security let cameras in. There was also a mandatory coat check that was $2 and would have been nice to know. Once inside though, far from the annoying protestors we were able to have a couple of drinks. No good beer, though. It's a shame Shaw couldn't get some good American beers for a good American President. (Sam Adams comes to mind, since Texas microbrews are not available in Alberta to the best of my knowledge). Since George W. Bush doesn't drink anymore, after I had a drink I made sure I had one for him.

The centre-front area of the venue was reserved for sponsor tickets (both VIP and regular) which was a little disappointing. Several of them didn't seem particularly interested in being there, and those of us who bought in the first three days didn't seem to get particularly good seats (no idea where the $170 tickets began). After a brief introduction from the CEO of Bedford Biofuels (who apparently never bothered to pre-read the introduction on the program, which he had to recite outright), we got to see George W.

One protestor blew his $100 pretty quick (he'd set off my spidey senses earlier, he looked far less happy to be there than most and was dressed like a slob) by shouting out to a politician that he was mad about his lies. Throughout any of the heclers (there was another one, who like all good left-wingers is an unabashed anti-Semite, screamed out about all the evils done by Jews at the first mention of Israel. A third said something somewhere. Security took care of all of them, and Bush didn't miss a beat. These are the same people who throw chocolate milk at Stockwell Day.

Bush's talk itself was very good, as anybody not suffering BDS could have told you it would be. He begins by telling us how he enjoys coming to Alberta because of its similarities to Texas, and that he may begin referring to Texas as "Alberta of the South". I would gladly pay $150,000 for him to begin actually doing this. His best anecdote of the day was his first: he talked about living in Dallas having upset his neighbours as 650 cars drove down his cul-du-sac. To repay them, the "great diplomat" (as he called himself to chuckles) went door to door apologizing.. only to have his dog Barney (raised in the White House) crap on their lawns.
Here I was, 2 weeks earlier I was in office, and now I had a plastic bag on my hand cleaning up after my dog.
Over the course of the talk I got the feeling that this was an aspect of living that Bush never really got accustomed to not having as President (and, to a lesser extent, Texas Governor). He enjoyed his time as Leader of the Free World (after a fashion) but was more at home back in Texas where he could do some hobby ranching and just be George again.

Many of his other stories had to do with George H.W. Bush, America's 41st President. When he first mentioned his wife Laura there was a large applause just from the sound of her name, and another burst of applause when he bragged about how cool she was. He recounted that he once declared in a speech that she was the greatest First Lady in history...and his mother was in the audience. Whoops.

As much as possible, Bush tried to talk about his non-9/11 parts of his Presidency. He didn't talk about pre-9/11 much at all (No Child Left Behind, Chinese spyplanes), but talked first about the economic downturn and the need to push for the TARP bill that saved the banking sector. He said he really loved free markets, and knew that small business and private sector innovation was the true way to economic growth and recovery -- and another break for thunderous applause. I got the feeling he has a regret of having to invest government money, and he implored governments worldwide to drop the stimulus spending as soon as humanly possible.

He also took the time to praise Canada, praise the oilsands, and quip that he'd rather America bought their energy from a place like Canada that likes America versus places in the Middle East that hate them. More applause. He also took his time to say how important it is for trade and not falling into economic protectionism (more applause). He emphasized that in the long run free trade not only did a better job of helping people starving in Africa than foreign aid (applause) but also that free markets lead to freedom and that leads to giving people hope for the future and away from the thugs who collect hopeless people to recruit as suicide bombers (applause).

Now when George W. Bush gave us his opinion on what governments should do, he made it very clear that he wasn't giving advice to his successor (more on this in a moment). In one of my George Bush Video countdown posts I noted that several of Bush's activities as President were specifically tailored to avoid Clinton activities that Bush thought were uncouth: pardons and cruise missiles and transfer of power pranks, etc. etc. I had either forgot or never knew that criticism from former Presidents was another thing Bush was certain he wouldn't do out of office. So nothing Bush meant to say was criticism of Obama. He never mentioned Obama by name, but made a reference to him, waited for applause...and it never came. 2,000 people in the Shaw, hearing Bush talk about President Monkey, sat on their hands. Its one of those beautiful moments.

Eventually Bush did get onto the subject of 9/11, and recanted that as a pilot his response to hearing the first plane hit the WTC was wonderment how a professionally trained airline pilot could have possibly made such a mistake. It was the second plane hitting that gave him the immortal news: "Mr. President, the nation is under attack." From there he talked about what he and Condi (more applause) started formulating for emergency strategy. He again thanked Canada for accepting so many grounded US airplanes (the Bush Sr.'s landed in Minnesota, and when George W. got a hold of his mother to ask how she was doing, she replied with "you grounded my plane!"), and related how interesting it was to him that the Japanese Prime Minister called to say "Japan stands with you"...remember George H.W. Bush was a solider in the Japanese Theatre.

Oh by the way Bush-haters, you wanted a verbal flub in his hourlong speech? There it was: Bush talked about Canada being in the Pacific Theatre, and he meant the European Theatre. That's it. That's all.

Bush then thanked us all again and welcomed Kelly Hrudey, who sat down in what looked like a weird version of HNIC After Hours with the worst sound guys on the planet. Seriously, for Bush's first 10-15 minutes they had to keep adjusting the sound because Bush's microphones and Kelly's microphones weren't operating at the same volume. This is elementary PA system operation here, that any half-competant amateur learns his first week. These professionals couldn't figure it out at all and finally ended up just giving Bush a handheld microphone (more applause).

There really was a lot of applause.

Kelly asked about the torture accusations, and Bush explained his rationale: with advice from some of the top lawyers money can buy Bush wanted it explicitly stated exactly how far he could go. Bush reminded us that Taliban operatives are not covered by the Geneva Convention, and at the end of the day he used this "far-as-possible-by-law" procedure on...three people. And he assured everyone that while he couldn't discuss details he said his actions protected the American people from another attack and that he would not apologize for those actions.

He said also that he grew up in Texas, that it was the environment of rural western Texas that helped as much as his parents in the task of raising him in his transformative first 25 years. Its probably his second-best joke when he discussed how in the Oval Office there's a section for a President to hang the portrait of the previous President who inspired him most. George W. Bush put up Abraham Lincoln who he says built the country. When his father first came to see his son in the Oval Office, he immediately noticed that the portrait hanging in that spot... wasn't him. Whoops again, eh?

I was, again, disappointed that there were no question-and-answer segments, no "take your picture with George W." moments, no autograph sessions, etc., but I suppose it was just hopefulness on my part that such a thing would happen.

As the show ended, those of us who didn't have access to the Canada Place underground parkade had to go up and walk past the protesters. You remember them. I blogged about them extensively on Tuesday morning. I posted a couple tweets about them too, but the thing that struck me was how much it had in common with 1984's infamous "Two Minute Hate". This was stretched out to 3 hours and change, but the essence was still the same. Again it was covered in the Tuesday morning blogpost, but there was pure anger and hatred outside. Vicious and unfounded.

Contrast with the attendees: smiling, laughing, conversing. I talked with small business leaders, the sister of a member of EEDC (who is planning to complain a lot about the technical problems), somebody from Dave Hancock's office, and several hot asian girls with their younger-than-me boyfriends in fancy suits. There was much more ethnic diversity than the white folk angry screaming [and singing Bob Dylan songs which are even worse! -ed] outside. In the end you ended up with some successful people of all walks of life who decided to go see George W. Bush speak -- and a bunch of furious brain-dead whities who just want to prove to themselves they aren't racist when really they are, and show their opposition to violence by demanding that a former U.S. President be murdered in cold blood.


Mr Kennedy said...

Thanks for the report.